Yesterday Phil Twyford was confirmed as the new Transport Minister with Julie Anne Genter as an Associate – a powerful team to change transport in NZ. Twyford also picked up the role of Housing and Urban Development. Given housing and transport are two sides of the same coin, it’s great that we might finally be able to see some co-ordination and integration between these two critical portfolios.
There is clearly a lot that needs to be done in both portfolio’s and Twyford’s wasted no time in outlining an ambitious home building scheme. Positively, a lot of it will be focused around public transport such as train stations and the now to be build light rail.
While we’re keen to see housing, light rail, our Regional Rapid Rail and many other projects get underway as soon as possible, one of the first things we’d like to see Twyford tackle is ensuring we make the most of City Rail Link. The timing for this is critical as City Rail Link Limited are working through tender processes for the project right now.
Broadly, there are two key areas we’d like improved.
1. Build additional capacity into the project
Auckland has a well documented history of underestimating demand and so building projects too small. One needs to look no further than the Harbour Bridge to see a classic example but there are plenty of others.
As I understand it, CRLL based their demand models on the capacity of our trains and the number that can use the CRL, not the total demand from the public. As such it’s quite possible that demand from the public will exceed this and fixing the CRL later is likely to be prohibitively expensive. However, with some changes it could be possible to significantly boost the potential capacity, something I discussed in this post.
The current plan is to allow for 36 trains per hour (18 per direction) through the CRL at opening. Later with further investment that could be boosted to 48 trains per hour. But there are a number of ways capacity could be boosted even further. Most critical for this discussion is that some of those include designing the stations to allow for longer trains. When combined with changing the layout of our trains to increase standing capacity, it could be possible to almost double the theoretical capacity of the CRL. The capacity of different options is shown below.
There are two key changes that would need to be made to the CRL designs to allow for this potential future.
- The stations would need longer platforms. The most crucial in this regard is the Karangahape Rd station as that’s the one that would be the hardest to go back and change. Other stations on the network would also need upgrading if we ever went down the route of longer trains but they generally don’t have as many physical constraints as an underground station would. Obviously there’s a cost to building longer platforms but perhaps some of that could be recouped by using the space for retail or other activities until such time as it’s needed.
- The designs for the stations (and surrounding streets) would need to have sufficient capacity to circulate all of the extra people that could potentially pass through them. That means they’ll likely need additional exits (which also makes the stations more useful) as well as other measures like platform screen doors. On the doors, I understand that the stations are designed for them eventually but also that they’ll cost a lot more to retrofit later than if done upfront.
2. Build Karangahape Rd Station right first time
The station was designed with two entrances, one at Beresford Square and one down Mercury Lane. However, the current plan is to only build one entrance initially and that would be the Mercury Lane one. It’s a decision we’ve been critical of a long time.
Back in July, the head of the project, Chris Meale, said this of the decision to Simon Wilson at The Spinoff
Meale doesn’t think it will ever be built. “We’ve modelled the demand. Everything we’ve looked at suggests we won’t need a second entrance.”
Given that these days every prediction for public transport use in Auckland is quickly exceeded, this seemed bold.
You don’t think it will ever be needed?
Given how frequently PT projects in Auckland have underestimated demand, most recently with the impact of electric trains. We think it’s quite likely this could happen again.
But there’s an even more important reason why we need the Beresford entrance built right from the start, for accessibility access. The Mercury Lane entrance is about 90m down a steep hill from K Rd. Again, Meale seemed to dismiss this as an issue.
As for Mercury Lane, passengers will have quite a steep walk up the street to K Road. I asked why there won’t be escalators rising to Karangahape Rd itself.
“That’s not a difficult walk,” he said. “It’s good for you.”
Not a difficult walk for an able-bodied person maybe but much more difficult for those with disabilities. From what I can tell, the access up to K Rd, the main destination for people using the station, exceeds various standards. This wouldn’t be an issue with a Beresford Square entrance which is close to level with this part of K Rd.
We do have other issues with the CRL, such as the Albert St design, but these two are the most pressing as they’re the hardest to change later. The government is a 51% owner of CRLL (Council the other 49%) so we hope that Twyford is able to use this shake things up and help deliver better outcomes from the CRL.